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There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the latest Feed a Child SA television commercial. For those of you who have not seen it, here is the link to the video.

My understanding from the information provided is that the basic premise of the video is to show that domestic pets e.g. dogs, eat better than most under privileged children in South Africa.

Why the uproar some may ask, because there is an actual (black) human child playing the “dog” and being rewarded and fed like a dog by their (white) female owner.

I’ve had quite a bit of time to think about and this is a summarised standpoint on the commercial:

  • Although the shock value is amazing and illustrates a very stark reality, I think it’s still very reckless marketing and advertising
  • Both actors in the advertisement should have been of the same race because of the fact that in the South African context, it is very hard to separate race related issues from poverty. The fact that the owner of the “dog” is white perpetuates the racial stereotypes. Had the owner been black, there may have been controversy surrounding social class however, in my opinion, issues surrounding social class amongst the black majority and race relations are on completely different planes. That is to say, racial issues are still a sore talking point. South Africans still wear monochrome tinted glasses.
  • It’s dehumanising- period. It undermines the strides that South Africans have taken to overcome racial tension and segregation. There is a long history of people of colour being portrayed as animals or less than human all over the world. For a charitable organisation to contribute to this history is disgusting. If this is allowed then surely anything is acceptable in the right “context” e.g. can “black face” be used in future commercials for the sake of making an impact?

On charity commercials in general:

Having lived in the UK now for just under a year I have seen my fair share of charity advertisements. They all go something like this:

Scene 1 Act 1: African child kneeling at a dirty river collecting water in a broken plastic container

Scene 2 Act 1: African child laying helplessly in mother’s lap with bloated belly and flies swarming around his/her face.

Voice Over: “David has no access to clean water, he walks 2 kilometres every day to drink water from this river which is infested with bacteria and parasites. Your £2 can help David and his village get access to clean drinking water…”

I detest these ads. It just stirs so much anger in me firstly because I know that this is a reality and I wish it wasn’t because it’s not an impossibility that all human beings should be afforded the basic right to clean water, food and shelter. Secondly, a lot of these ads are degrading, pulling on the heart (purse) strings of the first world, fuelling an industry which is actually destroying Africa rather than helping it.

“In an aid-dependent environment, the talented- the better-educated and more-principled, who should be building the foundations of economic prosperity- become unprincipled and are drawn from productive work towards nefarious activities that undermine the country’s growth prospects” – an extract from Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo, a highly recommended read.

What are your thoughts on poverty, charity organisations, race in South Africa and aid for the African Continent?

MM

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